Friday, December 5, 2014

Polyamory, elective discomfort, and the walls of Sparta

Plutarch (and others) reports to us that Sparta didn't have walls so its men wouldn't turn into pussies.

I got your wall right here.

This kind of logic bugs me sometimes, because I tend to see military badassity as something instrumental, and a means to an end. I mean, who cares if your men read more and train less, if you've got the wall, amiright? Unless there's something intrinsically superior about being a badass tough guy, that is . . . and I guess that's the point.

The no-walls thing was an elective discomfort, a conscious choice to face greater amounts of terror and loss in order to become something better. And that reminds me of stoicism and polyamory, of course.

I'm polyamorous. That means that I have more than one girlfriend who each has more than one boyfriend. If that sounds awesome, it's because it is. But it's a scary Spartan trade-off thing.

When guys see, for example, my super-hot wife and girlfriend dropping by my work to visit me together, their first reaction is "daaaaaayum, tell me how to pull that off", and their second reaction is "WHAT, YOU LET HER DATE OTHER MEN, NO. I COULD NEVER DO THAT."

A barrage of questions.

"What if she starts loving someone else more than you?"
"Don't you get jealous?"

(Imma start trolling bodybuilders at the gym "But isn't that kind of heavy? Isn't that uncomfortable?")

The Stoics practiced something that William Irvine calls "elective discomfort." Sometimes they'd be cold, when they could have a blanket instead. Sometimes they'd go hungry when food was available. The idea was that they could kind of reset their hedonic treadmills and force themselves into a more justly merited level of appreciation for life. I find that polyamory does this.

The fact that my wife and girlfriend can and do love other people, certainly sometimes in some ways more than me, makes me face insecurities. It makes me try to be better. It makes me appreciate every second with them. It also makes life feel real.

Walls are another thing, though. And maybe they're good for some people. I certainly wouldn't have recommended every medieval city drop theirs.

But as for me and mine,

". . . tell me your heart
doesn't race for a hurricane
or a burning building"[1]

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